Chapter Twenty-Nine - Graduation
“Grace Holland,” the principal called, and I stepped forward and walked across the stage, nervousness twisting my stomach. Even though I had practiced this five times over before this very day, I was still nervous of tripping in front of all those people.
Cameras flashed around me, and someone called my name, as I stepped forward and shook Ms Capri’s hand and took the diploma with the other.
Graduation. The end of our high school life.
I took my spot amongst the other students already there, and grinned at Cole, Matt and Annie, who had already received their diplomas.
Cole was third from the beginning, and Matt and Annie were standing side-by-side, clutching their diplomas tightly.
I looked into the crowd as more names were read off. There was my mother, clutching a tissue and taking photos, my father and his wife Darla, who had made it up from Chicago for this. As well as Darla’s ten-year-old son, Chris.
Then there was Tristan and Haley, who had come to watch my graduation, as I would come to watch theirs tomorrow. They smiled and waved. It was hard to believe nine months ago he had pretended to be gay in order to pull a prank on Cole for me. Back when the whole rivalry began.
Maggie was there, too, holding her baby bump and smiling proudly at me. After three years of trying with her husband, she had finally been able to make a little Maggie, and I couldn’t wait for her to have it. I was so sad I had to leave Gypsy Rose for college, but it was a small sacrifice to make.
There was also Amber, watching on and yelling my name. She had helped me realise so much about Cole and Matt. I owed her big time for that.
And there was Alyra, cheering us all on as she watched us receive our diplomas. I looked down at my robe and smiled. This was it.
“Emilie Robinson!” I cheered and clapped as Emilie came onstage, cautiously watching the hem of her robe and smiling shyly. She shook hands, received her diploma and took her place.
The names carried on, until finally we reached the final name. Then Annie, being voted valedictorian, got up on stage and made a speech.
The whole crowd watched on in silence as she begun. “Graduation, to me - and most likely also to the other graduates around me - means one thing. Closing one door and opening another. But it won’t be that easy. Because, for most of us, we don’t want that door to close. We have had so many memorable, fun times here, made friends, developed relations, that have all happened here, and not all of us are ready to say goodbye.
“But the thing is, another door is still open for us, a door filled with promise and opportunity, if we go through it the right way. Sure, we won’t all be together for it, but along the way we will make new friends, develop new relationships, make more memories. It won’t always be easy, but that’s what high school was for. Teaching us how to persevere and become stronger and better people. It helped us become what we need to be to step into this new life of college, and from then on, the real world.
“We have every single person present today to thank for guiding us in the right direction; parents, for encouraging and believing in us. Friends, for keeping us on track. Teachers, relatives, acquaintances, all of you have played a part in helping to shape us into the people we are, and you will help to shape us into the people we’ll become.
“So don’t cry because we have to part, smile because we were once together. And if you ever feel like you’re losing your balance, just remember… We’ll always have the memories to break our fall.”
Everyone clapped and cheered as Annie took her spot back in line, and Ms Capri smiled. “Thank you, Annette Fisher. Now I would like to proudly introduce to you, Alderidge High’s Senior Class of 2013.”
Everyone whooped and cheered and we threw our graduation caps in unison. The sky filled with black and gold caps as photos were taken. I turned to Matt and hugged him, closing my eyes and breathing in his scent.
“Grace! Grace, Grace, Grace, Grace!” I groaned as someone barreled into my side, almost knocking Matt and I off of our feet.
“Amber!” I said. “Careful. I’m fragile.”
She rolled her eyes and hugged me. “You’re out of high school now. How do you feel?” she said excitedly, practically jumping up and down in her giddiness.
“It’s strange, you know? No more classes and bells and crappy cafeteria food.”
“A scary thought,” I admitted. “I’m sad but excited at the same time.”
“Understandable,” Amber said. “Well, congratulations! You deserve it!”
I hugged her again. “Well I better go congratulate my cousin. Have fun and don’t forget about me!”
“I could never!” I yelled after her as she swooped off to congratulate Zak, who was indeed her cousin.
“Congrats, Grace,” Tristan said, strolling over to me with his arm wrapped around Abby’s shoulders. You could tell they’d grow up and be childhood sweethearts.
“Thanks,” I said, hugging both quickly. “It’s D-Day for you guys tomorrow.”
Abby nodded and flashed me a smile. “How was it?”
“Nerve-wracking. But I’m OK. I just can’t believe that’s it.”
“Yeah, it’s incredible. After so long it’s just… over.”
“But now we’ve got college to look forward to!” I exclaimed cheerily, fist-pumping Tristan.
“Oh, Grace!” my mom said, sobbing as she located me through the thick crowds.
Tristan and Abby stepped back, waving goodbye as they set off to give me time with my family.
“My baby’s grown up!” my mother sobbed into my shoulder.
“Mom, nothing’s changed,” I said. “I’m still the same Grace as always.” I fought back the tears that were threatening to spill from the sight of seeing my mother cry and knowing I would never see half these people again.
She nodded and sniffled. “The party’s starting soon. I’ll meet you at the venue?”
I nodded. My school had this tradition where they held a post-graduation ceremony where all graduates and their families and friends had lunch and celebrated graduation. Dad and Darla and Chris were meeting us there, but I was going with Matt, where he was standing and talking and laughing with Cole and Annie.
I wrapped my hand in Matt’s and pecked his cheek. “We should get going,” I said. “The party starts soon.”
He nodded and tucked a stray blond curl behind my ear. “How are you doing?”
“OK, I guess. I just can’t believe this is really it,” I murmured.
“High school. It’s over.”
“Well, we’ve still got a full life ahead of us,” he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulder and pulling me closer. He kissed my temple soothingly. “This isn’t the end. This is just the beginning.”